The Four Pieces Of Literature That Inspired Me To Become A Writer

The Four Pieces Of Literature That Inspired Me To Become A Writer

As I quoted Stephen King (in my previous blog), if you don't have time to read, you don't have time to write. 

I'm always amazed when "writers" tell me that they don't have the time to read. It's shocking, really. 

But I'm even more amazed when I hear writers who "don't like to read" — can you call yourself a writer at all at that point? 

And why is this phenomenon wholly unique (at least in my experience) to the art of writing? Can you imagine a painter who hates paintings? A director who hates film? A musician who hates music? 

I can't, which is why today I wanted to share my love of fiction, and those books that shook me to my core so much, that they have left lasting impressions on me. 

I will consider myself a successful author if a single work I produce achieves 1/10 the greatness of any of these books. 

(Download Chapter 1 of my upcoming novel It's a long way down)

John William's, Stoner

The New Yorker once called Stoner "The Greatest American Novel You've Never Heard Of." Which, not incidentally, is the first time I had ever heard of the book. After reading the article (you should too), I ordered it on Amazon. I now try and pressure 99% of my friends who read into reading it themselves.

In it, John Stoner is a young man who grew up in a farming household. He goes to University to learn about advanced farming techniques, with his father hoping he brings back those techniques, after his four year degree. 

He takes a required course of English and it opens his eyes to an entire world he had not previously knew it existed: the world of literature. 

The rest of the book would follow him through out the rest of his life. 

I could not think of a better word to describe this book other than sentimental. A unique sentimentality, one that is both heart wrenchingly hard to read, and one that is inspiring, pervades throughout this novel. 

When I first read it (in June of 2014) I had decided to take a month of drinking, and to focus solely on writing, which may be why it spoke to me so much. 

A man, who was one a certain trajectory in life, began a wholly different one, and transformed into something completely different. 

I found myself in the character and it still remains the only book I've read more than twice. 

(Purchase my first poetry book, Before Oblivion, HERE.)

Oscar Wilde's The Portrait (Picture) of Dorian Gray

My favourite class during University, and my favourite era of writing at the time, was the romantic era. Though this novel, the only one Oscar Wilde produced, doesn't fall within the temporal guidelines of the era, it certainly falls in the thematic and emotional guidelines, which was why it was taught in one of my romanticism classes. 

Now, as an indestructible youth, I fully admit that I may have missed the main point of the book... 

That full-fledged hedonism corrupts, and that meaning is more important than beauty. 

Rather, what struck me, which may be running theme in this post, was the sensibility of the novel, the emotional power, and the reckless obsession with youth, at any cost necessary. 

It relayed to me the power of the novel to move, to change you, to experience a full range of emotions through words alone. 

(In writing this post, I found out that there's multiple versions of this story, some more censored then others, and now I'm wondering which I read. Definitely will be going back and reading this book in the near future.)

Tim Obrien's The Things They Carried

As far as changing the trajectory of my life is concerned, TIm Obrien's collection of short stories, The Things They Carried, may be, for me, the most important on this list. It was from my second year of University, and was required reading for my first class on English I actually liked: ENGL 282 - Introduction to the Short Story

Before this one, I saw English classes as mere means to an end, a necessary evil that one must take, despite the bore they always seemed to cause me.

Little did I know, all I needed was the right teacher, and the right story. 

In The Things They Carried, Tim presents a book that is, on the face of it, autobiographical, detailing his experiences in the Vietnam War (which he did go to). 

(If you don't want spoilers, stop reading here).

About halfway through the collection of stories, he tells the reader that everything you have just read didn't happen. 

That's right. It's all fake. A ruse. A game of trickery. Fiction, not autobiography! 

But why? Because, he says to the dear reader—and this is important—you weren't there! 

How could you ever know what it was like, through mere words, to experience the things he experienced?

You couldn't.

To make you feel what he did, he had to make things up, exaggerate, add to it, go over the top, and get to somewhere false, somewhere above the truth, to land on the truth of what he was feeling, not the truth of the reality. 

That was a mind blowing realization for me, which was the power of fiction to tell the truth. The power of stories to connect with people. 

(Download Chapter 1 of my upcoming novel It's a long way down)

Last but not least...

Allen Ginsberg's "Howl"

This is the first poem (though not my favourite) that made me fall in love with poetry, and is the inspiration behind what is—perhaps, though they're like children, and it's hard to just pick favourites—my favourite poem I've written...

(scroll past the poem if you don't want to read it right now). 

a lifetime of idleness

i’m surrounded by the minds of men
corrupted by their insatiable desire to feed and be fed,
to live their lives like creatures of the starry sunken night
to limp and claw and fight their way to salvation
what sweet angels these men are! what beasts!

(Contact me if you want to read the rest).

What resonated most with me, at the time in my life in which I read it, was his description of his life and the people who he surrounded himself with, those poets, artists, political radicals, jazz musicians, drug addicts, and psychiatric patients. 

The first line in the poem, which goes:

"I saw the best minds of my generation desotroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked / dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix,"

Had me immediately hooked. I felt at home in that poem, as if this was a man who was talking through time, 55 years in the past, and expressing exactly what it felt like to be a young man of my generation, "dragging" yourself through life, with "hollow-eyes" and whom absolved themselves on whatever they could get their hands on.

I read it in class, and it was okay, but then, about three and a half years ago, I read it again, and I was shaken with momentum, a movement that originated from within the poem guided my own writing. 

Now, almost once a year, I give it a once over, and it still doesn't fail to invigorate myself and my writing. 

A poem of a generation. 

And if you're curious, this is my favourite poem... 

If, by Rudyard Kipling.

Honourable mentions:
Jonathan Franzen's Purity
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's The Sorrows of Young Werther
Tao Lin's Taipei

(Download Chapter 1 of my upcoming novel It's a long way down)

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